Failures in Tennessee’s justice system have allowed more than 150 prison escapees to roam free, The Tennessean reports. Convicts on the run from Tennessee prisons have murdered at least nine people during the past 30 years. A Tennessean investigation reviewed the cases of hundreds of inmates who escaped from the prison system since 1975. More than one-third of escapees on the lam had no warrants identifying them as fugitives. As a result, many were stopped by police, given traffic tickets, arrested and in some cases sent to prison, then turned loose – without anyone knowing that they should have been returned to prisons. Some were later arrested on serious charges, ranging from armed robbery and attempted murder to sex crimes.
In recent years, the high-profile arrests of two Tennessee fugitives highlighted flaws in the way Tennessee handles warrants for escapees; prison officials did nothing to remedy the problem. Until presented with The Tennessean’s findings, officials continued to insist that escape warrants were on file for all escapees. Tennessee Correction Commissioner George Little has lobbied unsuccessfully for more internal affairs officers and pushed for a new statewide computer system to improve the sharing of information among law enforcement. Either could help the state catch more escapees. Little was at a loss to explain why the problem had apparently gone unnoticed by prison officials for decades. “Even if there was one person that was hurt – forget about killed, one person that was hurt because there was an escapee out there who we could have gotten back – I would argue that that is too many,” Little said.